Be it Sting’s recent performance in Mumbai, Anoushka Shankar’s India tour, or Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves’ Delhi-Mumbai tour, Kolkata music enthusiasts have been happy to fly out to catch a glimpse of their favourite global icons. However, except for Steve Vai’s solo tour in 2023, the city has seldom hosted global musicians and concerts in recent times.
There was a time when international musical icons across genres would be regulars in the city, praising its discerning audience and distinctive vibe. We speak to organisers, musicians & attendees to find out what’s hitting the discordant note in the cultural capital of India.
To host a global artiste, we need a venue with a capacity of 15,000 to 18,000. Kolkata lacks such a venue
– A source from a city ticketing agency
We spend all our resources on Bollywood music and stakeholders don’t support anything else. There’s discrimination between ‘our music’ & ‘Videshi music’. Why can’t we be with the first world when it comes to art?
– Amyt Datta, guitarist
‘Kolkata wants free passes, organisers unsure of ticket sales’
Aniruddha Mukhopadhyay, who has worked in projects across Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad, says: “It’s difficult to get sponsors here as organisers are unsure about ticket sales. I’ve had to cancel concerts of famous international performers thrice because we could only sell about 100 tickets.” He also stresses on the fact that people in Kolkata don’t want to buy passes, rather want them for free. “Shows incur a loss as ticketing is the second major source of revenue after sponsorships,” he adds.
‘Need better all-weather venues’
A huge challenege for event organisers is the city’s weather – which remains hot and humid around the year with severe cyclonic spells in between. Most of the shows, especially the open air ones, are concentrated in winter. Rupsha explains, “Mumbai also has a similar weather but they have venues that can be converted as per the weather, specifically for concerts. In Kolkata, we mostly end up in an auditorium, at a mela ground or a theme park.”
Lack of safe infrastructure
The city has seen multiple concert mishaps over the past few years. Be it the crowd mismanagement issue at Rupam Islam’s concert in Madhyamgram, or accusations of suffocation at Nazrul Mancha, that led to KK’s death. Highlighting the need for attention towards infrastructure, Nishit Arora, an entrepreneur and events organiser says, “A concert venue must have multiple entry and exit points, proper parking area, emergency exits and sufficient manpower. The requirements of a concert venue are different from regular venues”
, a regular concert goer, says the lack of proper washrooms at concert venues in the city is a major drawback.
Accessibility, a big concern
Most venues in Kolkata are located far away from the city centre, making it quite inaccessible for many, says Priyanka. “Moreover very few venues in the city can accommodate a large audience. It’s also difficult to get approvals for complex big-ticket shows, all leading to lack of enough incentive for event organisers,” she adds.
The crowd that can afford to pay for the high-profile gigs has migrated to other metro cities. This is one of the major reasons behind the dearth of international shows in Kolkata
–Rupsha Sen, musician & event organiser
What Kolkata missed out on
>Anoushka Shankar: Anoushka toured Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and Delhi between January 22 and January 31, 2024
>An iconic world music fest that took place in Mumbai with the Jonas Brothers, Sting and many other international artistes in attendance between January 27- 28
>Herbie Hancock & Dianne Reeves: The Jazz legends toured Mumbai and Delhi between January 14-25
>Deep Purple: The five-member British rock band performed at a Gurgaon mall on December 15, 2023
>Backstreet Boys: The popular ensemble and performed in Mumbai on May 3, 2023 and in Delhi on
May 4, 2023
‘The live music scene is dying in Kolkata as youngsters are more into DJ music. Organisers want to get international artistes here, but are apprehensive about losses. Only a handful are willing to pay for such concerts, others want to experience it free of cost’
–Debaditya Chaudhury, keyboardist, Lakkhichhara
‘Stakeholders lack foresight here. We have what’s needed to host big concerts, but we are not willing to do so’
– Mainak Bumpy Nag, musician
Kolkata is ready to pay for
>Concerts by Bollywood singers
>Hindustani Classical music concerts with affordable tickets
> DJ nights